Everywhere I look, so many people I talk to are losing people left and right. Their old friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, previous spouses. The rug has been pulled out from under. I spoke to a woman in her early 80’s. I asked her if you ever get used to loss? No. It becomes a part of who you are. You live with it.
I have run out of tools. Get used to it? Really? Live with it? Well, she’s got a point there. It does appear to be an unshakable truth. Everybody dies. They just never taught me what to do about it. I have studied several spiritual perspectives over the years. I know all about the wheel and how you have to work towards enlightenment to get off it. I know the story about us all carrying a spec of g-d in us so g-d can know itself better when we die and return the spec with all the data we amassed during our lifetime. So much easier to read about. Way harder to live it.
I remember reading something like this about George Harrison. Now we all know you can’t believe much of what you read, but it stuck with me all these years. George Harrison was very spiritual. He built his later years all around his beliefs. The article claims that on his death bed he lost faith and felt cheated by his beliefs. Shocking. And, I get it.
I have felt lost for several years now. Ever since my parents died within 6 months of each other. I recently perused a couple of books on grief. Seems this is a symptom of grief – feeling hopeless and directionless. I suppose I should feel relieved that this is part of a well-known process and some day it will pass and I will be able to move on with my life. But right now, I have no sense of any such possible completion. Right now I am simply drowning in this loss, this fact that nothing lasts, that nothing stays the same.
Did I mention I tend to feel the need to control? This new concept of nothing lasting or staying the same has completely shot control to bits. So I guess underneath all this anger is the total terror that there is no such thing as control. Damn. Should have read the fine print.
My neighbor Patricia is dying. She was my neighbor on the West Coast in the Sierras for 8 years. We got very close during that time. She was dealing with Multiple Myeloma. It is hard being this far away. Her world consisted of all the creatures of the forest, literally. She named them, fed them, and counted on their returning from season to season. She also rescued giant parrots from around the globe. She spent the last few years raising enough cash for the rescue organization to care for them for the rest of their lives. Her last course of chemo made her brain swell. They didn’t know it was the chemo until too late. She must have been trying for one more miracle. I know they had been trying different chemos the past few years as their potency waned.
This vibrant woman of the woods is now reduced to a wheelchair, with slurred speech and out of control anxiety. She has hospice care 24/7, a sure sign the end is near. I feel like every where I look anymore, someone is dying. The nature of the world as you approach 60, I guess. Life really gets reduced down to what is really important. I just bought a couple of books on grief. Hopefully, there is something within those pages to bring some comfort.
Right now my wife’s daily chemo pill is working. She started 6 years ago with a round of chemo, the kind they give you intravenously. Then after 3.5 years it came back in her chest so they gave her another round of a slightly different cocktail and bombarded her chest with radiation. Once that was done she started the first chemo pill, Tarceva. It was supposed to get into her brain and stop the brain lesions. It didn’t. She is now on the second type of chemo pill, Tagrisso. It is showing signs it is getting into her brain, but we won’t be sure until November’s round of tests. Of course, according to the docs, we can never be sure what exactly is working. Drives me crazy.
And then I go to that dark place, the place I call The Pit. The place of fears of the unknown. We don’t know what is available should this pill prove to not be useful. All the new immunotherapy drugs do not work for her EGFR type of lung cancer. The whole current trend will be of no use for her. I dread the day we have to cast about for a miracle drug. I don’t want her to wind up like my neighbor. Wouldn’t it be better to be yourself and let go, rather than grasp madly about with the risk of being totally decimated in the last months of your life? The cancer will already do a fine job of decimating you in the end without the help of extra poisons. When is it time to say enough? I hope we don’t get to that point for a very long time.
Be at peace, Patricia.
I now understand what I miss about having a mother. It’s that special connection you feel just cause she’s your mother. I spent some time with wife’s mother at a recent family event. She is always very sweet to me. And it just suddenly struck me about the quality of her interaction with me. Something I haven’t felt since my mother died. Made me very sad.
My mother’s been gone almost 4 years. We had a complicated relationship. We didn’t work things out until my 40’s. I finally received the love I always needed when she was on her death bed. Her personality had gone, but her spirit still remained. It was during her last week. When she said she loved me I really felt it for the first time. It was so pure. Went right to my heart. Such a gift.
And I felt very complete and finished after that. So it was very surprising to me to have this experience with my wife’s mother and realize that has been missing from my life. Another loss to grieve. She is in her early 80’s. I asked her if you ever get over loss or used to it. She said no. You carry your losses with you. You simply learn to live with them. Guess I am in the learning phase.
So we are heading into winter, the time traditionally spent visiting the Underworld. The days are shorter. I went to work in the dark this morning. Not very fond of that. This is the time of year to stay indoors from the cold and snow. The time of year to go inside, deep into our inner sanctums. The perfect time to embrace grieving and loss, and all that accompanies that.
My dad cared for my mother for years before his death. He didn’t tell us kids she had dementia. We all lived far away. I visited once a year, twice a year during their last few years. One day, my dad had had enough. He bled out overnight in his recliner. He was going to have an endoscopy in two days for some unknown reason to us kids. He didn’t have to die, according to the docs. I think he just had had enough. I had pleaded with them for years to move into an assisted-living place to get help. But their privacy was more important to them. I pleaded with them to use visiting nurse services that were covered by medicare. My mother didn’t like them. She had dementia, and my dad was tired of fighting with her so he canceled the services. So I guess alone in their condo in Florida, he just decided to check out. I know this because he never in his life spent the night in his recliner. And he spent two nights this time. The first time he woke up still here, so he tried again the second night. We did not do an autopsy so we don’t know what caused his bleeding out. He was 93. Life happens.
Every so often I think about my dad caring for my mother when I see myself caring for my wife. She is in her right mind. She is not dying. But she takes a daily chemo pill to keep the cancer at bay. Her brain has been zapped with radiation 33 times in the past 6 years. She has memory issues, but is totally sound in her thinking. She is on disability. I work a 40-hour week so she can have good insurance until Medicare kicks in. That will be next summer. Then I will be free to look for a different job if I want. But I don’t know that I would have the energy to try to impress a brand new company. Caregiving is exhausting. We have only been married a year. Next week is our anniversary. Time with her is so precious. I hate that I have to be gone 10 hours a day to make the money work. So I don’t take a whole lot of time for me alone because I have so little of my day available for time with her. Which is partly why I am just getting around to dealing with the death of my parents from 3 years ago. I think about how my dad had no time for himself, but it had been that way for so long, I think he had forgotten how. On one of my visits I offered him some time to himself. I would hang with my mother and he could go out and do whatever he wanted. He turned me down. He said, “What would I do?”
I don’t want to become my dad. My dog forces me to go out without my wife. She has only one lung and can only do smaller, flat walks. My big dog and I go hiking up mountains. Endorphins are a beautiful thing. I sneak hikes in first thing in the morning on weekends when she is still sleeping, when the weather is good. Otherwise I just do a brief walk down the road mornings before work. But lately I haven’t had the energy to do it. This grief thing just saps me of all inspiration. I weigh more than I ever have. Grief on top of post-menopause is frightening. I refuse to buy another size up. And so this winter I will curl up in a ball in front of my wood-burning stove and completely embrace these feelings of loss, meaninglessness, etc., while still needing to be a positive companion to my wife with her long laundry list of ailments. Yeah, good luck with that.
So it turns out I really don’t understand grief as much as I thought I did. I thought it was just lots of crying and maybe some depression. Not exactly. I have lost the desire to do anything, to create anything, to fix anything. I no longer have any dreams of a future. No goals. No plans. Once again, there is no g-d. No comfort. When I was 8.5 years old, my maternal grandmother died. I became an atheist on the spot. Didn’t embrace g-d again until my 30’s. And here I am once again, doubting any spiritual presence in the world. But now I know it is because my heart is all shut down. Part of the grieving process.
So, what is it all for? Life has become of series of losses. At my age, I understand now, it is just the beginning. I am only 59. I don’t feel old enough for this to be my new reality. Nothing prepares you for this. They don’t teach you about death in school. Our society is so afraid of death. No one talks about it. I got three days paid leave from work when my brother died this past August. So, you are so supposed to deal and be done with it in three days. Who are they kidding? Some places give you 6 months when you birth a child. As with everything else about making a living, you are supposed to check your life at the door when you enter the office and resume your worker bee status. The disconnects in our society are frightening and maddening.
I alternate between feeling a sadness well up in me for strange reasons, or just feeling dead inside. And part of me feels like I have to keep my spirits up to be a good, supportive spouse to my wife. But I know it is very important to make space for me and my feelings and process. Yesterday, my cell phone rang from a strange number from my remaining brother’s area. It was his doctor’s office. They had called me by accident. I am his contact for everything. He has never been married. I am his executor and all that. Scared the crap out of me. I called him later to find out it was just all positive results from his annual blood tests. But for that moment when they called, all I could think of is, another loss now? Who’s next? My wife? My brother? I can’t deal with one more loss right now.
I tell my dog, who is 8.5 years old, that she has to stay healthy. She is my rock. My one constant. I brought her with me when I drove across country. She has been with me since she was 8 weeks old. She keeps me going. Makes me go out for walks, regardless of the weather. Animals know how to do death. When the body is done, they are done. They have no qualms, no issues. They just go. They smell a dead body, they walk away. Nothing for them there. They know the soul has gone. Ah, if it were truly that easy.